Tag Archives: philosophy

Metaphysics & Education

Metaphysics is the study of reality and the nature or character of it. This branch  of philosophy deals primarily with what is real. This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. However, different people answer this question in different ways based on what they believe about the nature of reality and how we come to know it.

There are at least four sub-branches of metaphysics  that attempt to address the question of the nature of reality. These four branches are…

  • Cosmology
  • Ontology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology

We will look at each of these and then try to examine how metaphysics manifest itself in education.


Cosmology deals with the origins of the universe. The main views of the origins of the universe can be seen as a continuum from the universe was created or design by God or the other extreme that everything about the universe has happened by accident as is commonly viewed by evolution.  A middle ground along this continuum would be theistic evolution, which states that a divine being used evolution to create the world.

The beliefs an  individual has about cosmology affects other aspects of their life, education, and how they interpret what they experience. For example, an atheist scientist see nature and is awed by the random movement of natural selection to create such beauty. However, a theist would see the same evidence in nature and be led to the conclusion that God has created a beautiful climate. When these two sides meet they cannot agree because they have different assumptions or beliefs about origins and interpret what they see based on these beliefs.


Ontology is the study of existence. This is probably one of the harder positions to understand. However, ontology deals with such ideas as whether reality is physical or spiritual, or a combination of the two. In addition, Ontology addresses whether reality is orderly and stable.

People’s beliefs about being can impact how the approach life. If there is nothing there is no reason to care or do anything. However, if there is something beyond this life and life was created with purpose this will alter a person’s behavior as they consider how they may be held accountable for their actions.


Anthropology is the study of man. Some questions that anthropology focuses on in particular is the relationship between the mind and the body. Is it the mind or the body the primary agent of behavior. Other questions include examining whether people or good or evil or morally neutral. Lastly, anthropology addresses the question of the freedom people have. Do people have choice or is their behavior determined by their environment?

The nature vs nurture argument is an old argument about the condition of man. The ultimate question is who is responsible for the actions that people take. The answer to this question evolves around views of the will.


Theology is the study of the nature of God and plays a profound role at least indirectly in all philosophy. Atheist strongly believe there is no God. As such, the support primarily science as a way of understanding reality. Theists believe there is a God or gods and this natural affects how they view realty.

Even among theists there is disagreement over how many gods there are. Polytheists believe in many gods while monotheists believe in one God. Pantheists believe god(s) is in everything and that they are gods. The position a person has on God can change how they view the world. Monotheists often believe in having a relationship with  one God in order to prepare for the reality of death in this life and the promise of living forever. Polytheists tend to have a contractual quid pro quo relationship with many different gods in order to do better in this world now and smooth the transition to living another life via some form of reincarnation.

Metaphysics and Education

Metaphysics manifest itself in many ways in education. In terms of cosmology and theology, most schools support the idea that the world came about by chance and that life evolved from almost nothing billions of years ago. This is related to theology in that most schools doubt the existence of God being openly atheistic in nature or may at most be agnostic in nature.   In a non-Western context, gods or polytheism is acknowledged and accepted in everyday life but traditional science and atheistic origins of the universe are generally taught in school. This can lead to a dual world view at times.

In terms of ontology and anthropology, the views on ontology vary by culture in education. In the West, the spiritual aspect of man is not acknowledged in education due in part to the focus on science. However, this is beginning to change with the emphasis on mindfulness and meditation in public education. In the East, there is a more open view towards the spiritual nature of man.

In terms of education, students are generally taught that man is inherently good but  may be corrupted by his environment and culture. In the East, education teaches that man is good by nature but may make mistakes. Culture is rarely criticized in eastern education.


Metaphysics is a difficult concept to try to address and understand. The important thing to remember is that metaphysics deals with the question of what is reality and that different people answer this question i different ways. How people answer these questions depends in part on their beliefs about cosmology, ontology, anthropology, and theology.


Realistic Teacher

Realism is another philosophy that has had a tremendous impact on education and the world in general. The modern world seems to be almost exclusively realist in terms of its worldview thanks in part to the scientific position that most individuals take on matters.

In this post, we will look briefly at the characteristics of realism. In addition, we will also examine how a teacher who believes in realism may approach teaching and realism’s impact on the broader educational process.


Just as Plato was reacting to the change that was surrounding him when he developed his views on idealism, his pupil Aristotle react to idealism by proposing realism. Realism states that objects we perceive with our senses are independent of our mind. In other words, what see exist independently of us and our mind.

However, realism is not a rejection of idealism but in many ways an extension of it. Aristotle thought that everything was made of a combination of form and matter. Form was similar to the ideals of Plato’s idealism and matter was the new contribution that Aristotle was making which is a focus on the material aspect of an object. Form or ideas can exist without matter, such as the ideal or form democracy. Yet matter cannot exist with a form, such as a physical chair with the idea or form of a chair.

Aristotle further proposed that studying the world or matter would lead to a better understanding of universal ideas. This concept has had a strong impact on research in the development of inductive methodology also known as the scientific method.

Philosophical Implications

Reality as seen through idealism is the physical world. The world is similar to a giant machine in which humans are both passively acted upon and actively influencing as well. There are also natural laws that govern the physical world that can be discovered through observation.

Knowledge is gained only through the senses. Something is true because  it was observed. The natural law is within the reality of the natural world and the realist is looking for this through specific examples. This inductive process helps the realist to understand the world around him. In many ways, the Natural Law of the realist is the Absolute Self of the idealist. The difference is in how each is discovered. The idealist thinks about the Absolute Self and knows through intuition that there is an external standard. The realist observes the Natural Law with is senses which confirms the Natural Law’s reality.

Natural Law also extends into the realm of ethics. It is through observing nature and the world that what is right and wrong, beautiful and ugly can be determined according realism. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson  alludes to realism when he speaks of “inalienable rights.” In other words, Jefferson was proposing that some of the rights of man are obvious if one examines the world in which they live.

Realism and Education

A realistic teacher stresses that students learn through their senses. This involves teaching methodologies that have students doing and experiencing things rather than just listening. This can include such activities as field trips, group work, projects etc.

On a darker side, a realist teacher may believe that students are a product of their environment. This has been interpreted as meaning that students do not truly have choice as they are simple responding to the stimuli in their environment. This has lead to a push in education for a focus on behaviorism and even classical conditioning. Furthermore, most learning objectives are behaviorist in nature because a teacher can “see” a behavior which is evidence that the student can do something.  Off course, this has clash with cognitivism (idealism in the 20th century) which focuses on the mind rather than the behavior.

The teacher’s role is to provide sound information about the reality of the physical world and the Natural Law. This is further supported by a focus on math and science, which today is viewed as a focus on STEM majors. One thing all STEM majors have in common is a focus on what can be seen and a disinterest in the realm of ideas and the highly theoretical. Critical thinking is focus almost exclusively on  problem solving and never for the development of an opinion. What really matters are facts and not so much what people think about them.

With the focus on the senses, one thing the teacher and the students will notice is that the world is in a constant state of change. This has led to a rejection of a permanent Natural Law due to the ephemeral quality of reality.


Realism is the primary worldview of education  today. Seeing is believing as the saying goes. Almost nothing is taken seriously unless there is clear observable evidence to support it. Of course, many people believe that feelings and personal experience counts as evidence. This is because feelings and personal experience have actual occurred in the individual person’s life.

Idealistic Teacher

Idealism is an ancient philosophy that had a strong influence on education through the 20th century. Recently, this position has been overshadowed by realism, however, the influence of idealism can still be felt in education to this day. In this post, we will describe idealism, explain the implications, and examined how an idealistic teacher views education.


Idealism is focus on reality as consisting of ideas, the mind and self. In other words, the mind makes the material world rather than the other way around as found in realism. Plato is the primary author of this philosophy.

The context of Plato’s life was one of change. This was during the time of the Persian Wars in which Greece, Athens in particular, did remarkable well. War naturally brings new ideas to both countries which was leading to changes. In addition, there was a push for individualism from a group of philosophers known as the sophists which was straining the communal culture of Athens.

Some have stated that Plato’s idealism was a reaction against this threat of change. Truth for Plato was permanent and unchanging. Since the world was changing, there could be no truth in this world. Truth must be found somewhere else. The real truth was found in the world of ideas a place that was beyond the senses used in this world.

Plato has rather negative views towards the senses. In his “Allegory of the Cave”, Plato essentially asserts that people who go by their senses are chain and trapped inside a cave of ignorance where they are bound to watch shadows of reality. Those who break free from these chains are those who have gone beyond their senses and use their intellect to reach the world of ideas. Naturally, only an elite handful of chosen ones or philosopher kings are able to do this.

Philosophical Implications

For idealist, the source of knowledge comes from intuition (knowing without conscious thought), revelation (knowing through supernatural encounters), and rationalism (knowing through conscious thought). What is important here is what is missing, which is empiricism (knowledge through the senses). Idealist do not require empirical verification of what is true. In the world today, this is almost laughable but was a core component of education for centuries.

Ethically, idealism emphasis a belief in an external ethical standard to man. Man cannot be the one to decide what is right or wrong. Instead, morals are determined by the world of ideas through the intellect. There is something called the Absolute self that the individual self is trying to imitate. This Absolute Self is considered by many to be God as seen from a christian perspective. Again this is something that would not be considered seriously by many educators.

There is an eternal consistency to truth for idealist.  Something is true when it fits with the harmony of the universe. Even art must make sense and must be used in a way that is consistent the perfect form of the world of ideas. This explains the sonority of early forms of music that have been lost gradually over time.

Idealism and Education

An idealistic teacher is going to focus on the development of the students mind. There is a constant striving for perfection in study of various subjects. Speaking of subjects, the curriculum consist primarily of the humanities and math. History and literature help students to see what is ideal for humans and the study of math is powerful because of its universal nature along with it being a self-evidently true. Generally, any subject that brings students into contact with ideas rather than things should be considered for the curriculum

The teacher’s responsibility is to pass their knowledge of the ultimate reality to the student as the teacher has more experience in this and the Absolute Self. Therefore, the teacher is an example for the student. Knowledge is seen as something that is transferred from the teacher to the student either verbally or writing. This implies that lecturing and direct instruction are key methodologies.

One of the more shocking positions of the idealistic teacher is that the school is not an agent of change. The idealistic teacher and the idealistic school do not train and educate “change agents”. Rather, since absolute truth is unchanging the school should natural reflect an unchanging nature and support the status quo. Anyone familiar with education in universities today would find this difficult to accept.


With focus on an other worldly perfect standard,  idealism is strongly out of place in a world that is governed or perhaps controlled by what they see and experience. Whenever people try to appeal to some sort of unqualified standard it is looked upon almost with ridicule. The exception seems to be when people share an emotional objection to something. Feelings have replaced some form of ethereally standard because emotions are experienced and felt rather than thought about.

The overemphasis on ideals is perhaps the weakness of idealism. Plato thought that people who only rely on their senses were trapped in a cave and unaware of true reality. However, the same can be said of a person who is trapped in the world of ideas. The person who is truly free is the one who can move between the senses and the mind or who can move between the reality of t ideas and physical world. Moving between these positions provides a flexible that neither has by itself.

Pestalozzi His life and Views on Education

John Pestalozzi (1746-1827) is one of the most influential educators of the most influential educators of the early 19th century and still one of the most influential educators today. This post will examine his life and his views on education.


Pestalozzi was born Zurich, Switzerland in 1746. His father died when he was a child and Pestalozzi was raised by his mother. As a student, Pestalozzi showed no signs of greatness and his teachers accuse d him of being lazy.

Despite this, Pestalozzi goes to college to studying theology before switching to law. After completing school he tried to be a farmer but failed. After his farming venture folded did he turn to teaching by starting his own school.

Teaching during the 18th-19th century was mostly an unappreciated experience. The teachers normally lacked training and were poorly paid. In addition, many leaders did not want the general public to be educated because they believed that educated people were harder to control.

Knowing or experience all this Pestalozzi started his school anyway only for it to fail as well. The main benefit of this experience was that He discovered his love for teaching.

In 1798, Pestalozzi moves to Stanze to care for 80 orphans who had suffered from war. He ran the entire operation by himself with only help from the children. Unfortunately, he had to leave less than a year later and spends several years as an assistant teacher.

In 1805, Pestalozzi starts his second school. This school was by far more successful than his first attempt and became a leader in innovative education in Europe at the time. All the students and teachers lived, ate, and study together. This operation lasted 20 before infighting finally destroyed it. Two years later in 1827, Pestalozzi died.

Educational Views

Pestalozzi views were not so much radical as they were distinct in focusing on the individual development of the child. Teaching should follow the natural progression of the child. In addition, students learn best through repetition and learning by doing.

Combing repetition with learning by doing means that a child should do it over and over again until they are comfortable. Again, it is natural for many children to learn this way. The teacher encourages this by supporting or scaffolding the learning experience of the student

Children should be taught the literal before the abstract because this is appropriate for their senses. This also leads to inductive teaching in many instances but not necessarily always.

Pestalozzi also emphasized that human nature consisted of the physical and moral capabilities. Pestalozzi was a Christian and was convinced that a child must learn more than academics but also develop a sense of right and wrong as prescribed by religion.


Pestalozzi work continues to impact teaching today. Almost every teaching education program talks about his work in one way or another. His philosophy of the whole child approach is a summary of what many believe education should be.

Life and Educational Views of John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was an influential philosopher during the 17th century. Locke also had some significant views on education. This post will look at Locke’s life and his positions on education.


Locke was born in 1632 in England. He went to college at Oxford and graduated in 1655. During, his university studies Locke developed a negative attitude toward the scholastic approach to education with its heavy emphasis on rote memorization. This experience would help to shape his educational views later in life.

After completing his bachelors, Locke attended medical school. Locke was not interested so much in being a doctor as in taking better care of his own health which he had problems with. After completing medical school, Locke work as a tutor to the son of an influential nobleman.

Due to the political actions of Locke’s boss he had to leave England for a time. However,  when a new king ascended the throne in England Locke was able to return. Upon returning Locke writes one of his most famous works “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” as well as other important works.

With his return to England, Locke actually worked for the government that used to be suspicious of him. He continued to serve until his health failed him and  he died in 1704.

Educational Views

Locke primarily had a practical view of education. The learning of a student should be focused on practical. Today it is tempting to spread a child across many subjects and electives but this was not what Locke supported. Education should be simplified and to the point

Locke did not hold that education should only be academic. Reading and writing are important but they were not everything in his view. This was in stark contrast to his scholastic education experience were academics is everything.

Locke believes that character development was the ultimate purpose of education. Understanding right from wrong and showing integrity were much more important than academic prowess.

Due to his medical training, Locke also supported the idea of an education that caters to the needs of the body. Fresh air, exercise, sleep, and a plain diet were critical to successful education.

Temperance was also another key item of success as the workload of the child should be adjusted to individual needs and not all the same. For Locke, a standardized education is insensible and treats children as objects rather than as living creatures. The teacher’s job is to study the child and find what is appropriate for them.

Locke also had much to say about language. He boldly claimed that the learning of Latin was overrated and really an activity for the upper class and not really for everybody. Locke also said that the best way to learn a language was through practice and not through the study of theoretical rules of language use.  In many ways here, Locke is laying the foundation for modern beliefs in TESOL.


John Locke was a highly influential philosopher of the 17th century who had unique views on education at his time. His ideas on wholistic education are still relevant today and his thoughts on language acquisition are perhaps the main view in that discipline today.

Academic Dishonesty and Cultural Difference

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating, are problems that most teachers have dealt with in their career. Students sometimes succumb to the temptation of finding ways to excel or just survive a course by doing things that are highly questionable. This post will attempt to deal with some of the issues related to academic dishonesty. In particular, we will look at how perceptions of academic dishonesty vary across context.

Cultural Variation

This may be frustrating to many but there is little agreement in terms of what academic dishonesty is once one leaves their own cultural context. In the West, people often believe that a person can create and “own” an idea, that people should “know” their stuff, and that “credit” should be giving one using other people’s ideas. These foundational assumptions shape how teachers and students view using others ideas and using the answers of friends to complete assignments

However, in other cultures there is more of an “ends justifies the means” approach. This manifests itself in using ideas without giving credit because ideas belong to nobody and having friends “help” you to complete an assignment or quiz because they know the answer and you do not if the situation was different you would give them the answer. Therefore, in many contexts doesn’t matter how the assignment or quiz is completed as long as it is done.

This has a parallel in many situations. If you are working on a project for your boss and got stuck. Would it be deceptive to ask for help from a colleague to get the project done? Most of us have done this at one time or another. The problem is that this is almost always frowned upon during an assignment or assessment in the world of academics.

The purpose here is not to judge one side or the other but rather to allow people to identify the assumptions they have about academic dishonesty so that they avoid jumping to conclusions when confronted with this by people who are not from the same part of the world as them.

Our views on academic dishonesty are shaped in the context we grow up in

Clear Communication

One way to deal with the misunderstandings of academic dishonesty across cultures is for the teacher to clearly define what academic dishonesty is to them. This means providing examples an explaining how this violates the norms of academia. In the context of academia, academic dishonesty in the forms of cheating and plagiarism are completely unacceptable.

One strategy that I have used to explain academic dishonesty is to compare academic dishonesty that is totally culturally repulsive locally. For example, I have compared plagiarism to wearing your shoes in someone’s house in Asia ( a major no-no in most parts). Students never understand what plagiarism is when defined in isolation abstractly (or so they say). However, when plagiarism is compared to wearing your shoes in someone house, they begin to see how much academics hate this behavior. They also realize how they need to adjust their behavior for the context they are in.

By presenting a cultural argument against plagiarism and cheating rather than a moral one students are able to understand how in the context of school this is not acceptable. Outside of school, there are normally different norms of acceptable behavior.


The steps to take with people who share the same background are naturally different than with the suggestion provided here. The primary point to remember is that academic dishonesty is not seen the same way by everyone. This requires that the teacher communicate what they mean when referring to this and to provide a relevant example of academic dishonesty so the students can understand.

Philosophical Foundations of Research: Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge. It deals with questions as is there truth and or absolute truth, is there one way or many ways to see something. In research, epistemology manifest itself in several views. The two extremes are positivism and interpretivism.


Positivism asserts that all truth can be verified and proven scientifically and can be measured and or observed. This position discounts religious revelation as a source of knowledge as this cannot be verified scientifically. The position of positivist is also derived from realism in that there is an external world out there that needs to be studied.

For researchers, positivism is the foundation of quantitative research. Quantitative researchers try to be objective in their research, they try to avoid coming into contact with whatever they are studying as they do not want to disturb the environment. One of the primary goals is to make generalizations that are applicable in all instances.

For quantitative researchers, they normally have a desire to test a theory. In other words, the develop one example of what they believe is a truth about a phenomenon (a theory) and they test the accuracy of this theory with statistical data. The data determines the accuracy of the theory and the changes that need to be made.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people were looking for alternative ways to approach research. One new approach was interpretivism.


Interpretivism is the complete opposite of positivism in many ways. Interpretivism asserts that there is no absolute truth but relative truth based on context. There is no single reality but multiple realities that need to be explored and understood.

For interpretist, There is a fluidity in their methods of data collection and analysis. These two steps are often iterative in the same design. Furthermore, intrepretist see themselves not as outside the reality but a player within it. Thus, they often will share not only what the data says but their own view and stance about it.

Qualitative researchers are interpretists. They spend time in the field getting close to their participants through interviews and observations. They then interpret the meaning of these communications to explain a local context specific reality.

While quantitative researchers test theories, qualitative researchers build theories. For qualitative researchers, they gather data and interpret the data by developing a theory that explains the local reality of the context. Since the sampling is normally small in qualitative studies, the theories do not often apply to many.


There is little purpose in debating which view is superior. Both positivism and interpretivism have their place in research. What matters more is to understand your position and preference and to be able to articulate in a reasonable manner. It is often not what a person does and believes that is important as why they believe or do what they do.

Philosophical Foundations of Research: Ontology

Philosophy is a term that is commonly used but hard to define. To put it simply, philosophy explains an individuals or a groups worldview in general or in a specific context. Such questions as the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence are questions that philosophy tries to answer. There are different schools of thought on these questions and these are what we commonly call philosophies

In this post, we will try to look at ontology, which is the study of the nature of reality. In particular, we will define it as well as explain its influence on research.


Ontology is the study of the nature of being. It tries to understand the reality of existence. In this body of philosophy, there are two major camps, ontological realism, and ontological idealism.

Ontological realism believes that reality is objective. In other words, there is one objective reality that is external to each individual person. We are in a reality and we do not create it.

Ontological idealism is the opposite extreme. This philosophy states that there are multiple realities an each depends on the person. My reality is different from your reality and each of us builds our own reality.

Ontological realism is one of the philosophical foundations for quantitative research. Quantitative research is a search for an objective reality that accurately explains whatever is being studied.

For qualitative researchers, ontological idealism is one of their philosophical foundations. Qualitative researchers often support the idea of multiple realities. For them, since there is no objective reality it is necessary to come contact with people to explain their reality.

Something that has been alluded to but not stated specifically is the role of independence and dependence of individuals. Regardless of whether someone ascribes to ontological realism or idealis, there is the factor of whether people or independent of reality or dependent to reality. The level of independence and dependence contributes to other philosophies such as objectivism constructivism and pragmatism.

Objectivism, Constructivism and Pragmatism

Objectivism is the belief that there is a single reality that is independent of the individuals within it. Again this is the common assumption of quantitative research. At the opposite end we have constructivism which states that there are multiple realities and the are dependent on the individuals who make each respective reality.

Pragmatism supports the idea of a single reality with the caveat that it is true if it is useful and works. The application of the idea depends upon the individuals, which pushes pragmatism into the realm of dependence.


From this complex explanation of ontology and research comes the following implications

  • Quantitative and qualitative researchers differ in how they see reality. Quantitative researchers are searching for and attempting to explain a single reality while qualitative researchers are searching for and trying to explain multiple realities.
  • Quantitative and qualitative researchers also differ on the independence of reality. Quantitative researchers see reality as independent of people while qualitative researchers see reality as dependent on people
  • These factors of reality and its dependence shape the methodologies employed by quantitative and qualitative researchers.

Approach, Method, Procedure, and Techniques In Language Learning

In language teaching,  in the general area of teaching methodology, people talk about approaches, methods, procedures, and techniques. This post will help to clarify the meaning of these interrelated terms and provide examples of each.


An approach is a theory about language learning or even a philosophy of how people learn in general. They can be psychologically focused such as behaviorism or cognitivism. They can also be based on older philosophies such as idealism or realism.

Approaches are fuzzy and hard to define because they are broad in nature. An example of an approach that leads to a method would be the philosophies of scholasticism, faculty of psychology, or even perennialism. Each of these philosophies encouraged the development of the mind in the way of a muscle. Train the brain and a person would be able to do many different things. These philosophies have impacted some methods of language teaching as we will see below.


A method is an application of an approach in the context of language teaching. An example of a method is the grammar-translation method. This method employs the memorization of various grammar rules and the translation of second language material to the student’s native language. Students were able to develop the intellectual capacity to understand the new language through a deductive process of acquiring the rules of the language.The purpose is not to critique this method but to show how it was derived from the approach that the mind needs to be trained through intellectual exercises to be able to accomplish something.


Procedures are the step-by-step measures to execute a method. These step-by-step measures are called techniques and will be discussed next. Common procedures for the grammar-translation method includes the following…

The ESL / ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide

  1. The class reads a text written in the second language.
  2. Student translates the passage from the second language to their mother tongue.
  3. Student translates new words from the second language to their mother tongue.
  4. Student is given a grammar rule and derived from the example they apply the rule by using the new words.
  5. Student memorizes the vocabulary of the second language.
  6. Student memorizes grammar rules.
  7. Errors made by the student are corrected by providing the right answers.

This is the process (with variation) that is used when employing the grammar-translation method.


A technique is a single activity that comes from a procedure. Anyone of the steps of the procedure list above qualifies as a technique. Naturally, various methods employ various techniques.


Language teaching involves approaches that lead to methods, methods that are broken down into procedures, and procedures that are a collection of techniques. Understanding how these concepts interrelate can help a teacher know the reasons behind their choices in how they choose to teach.

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Ancient Philosophies and Education

In research related to education and learning theories, there are two major philosophies that influence almost the entire field of education. The name of these two philosophies are rationalism and empiricism. In this post, we will take a closer look at each of these philosophies and their impact on education.


Rationalism is a form of epistemology that states that knowledge grows from the process of reasoning without reliance on the senses. In this philosophy, there is a strong distinction between knowledge acquired by the senses and by reason. According to Plato, a major proponent of this philosophy, things a.k.a matter are revealed by the senses. Ideas, on the other hand, are revealed by reasoning. This reasoning process is a systematic reflection upon the ideas of the world, which leads to further ideas being developed.

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher of the 17th century. He extended the work of Plato by stating that the primary difference between man and beast was the former’s ability to reason. For Descartes, the external world was mechanical. In many ways, this idea paved the way for naturalism and materialism of the 19th century.

In summary, rationalism is focused upon the development of the mind through thinking processes. This philosophy is at the heart of such learning theories that related specifically to information processing. Rationalism has also influence educational philosophies such as perennialism and to a lesser extent essentialism.


On the opposite end of the spectrum of epistemology is empiricism. Empiricism states that experience through the senses is the only source of knowledge. Aristotle was the developer of this position. He stated that ideas cannot exist independent of the external world. It is the information one gathers not from thinking but from one’s senses that leads to knowledge.

This idea was taken a step further by John Locke in the 17th century. Locke is famous for proposing what he called the tabla rasa. This was a phrase for stating that a person is born a blank slate. As the grow and take in information through the senses does the person acquire ideas about their environment and self.

Empiricism is one of the dominating philosophies of modern time. The scientific method, various learning theories on associational learning, and educational philosophies focused on experiential learning are based on empiricism.


More could be said about these two philosophies. The point that is being made is that they have had a strong influence on education. Most major debates in education share positions stated by one of these philosophies. When people speak of critical thinking and the development of the mind they are pulling concepts from rationalism. When people speak of job skills and hands on training they are deriving arguments from empiricism. In reality, a combination of both will lead to well-rounded individuals.

Curriculum & Realism

Aristotle is credited with the development of realism. Realism is about viewing the world in terms of what a person experiences through their senses. This is almost the opposite of idealism and its focus on the mind. Realist focus on experiencing things through as you may have guessed, experiences. Experiments in many ways are really just experiences people have had that were conducted in a scientific manner.

Within education, realism can be seen through proponents of experimentalism which emphasizes students have various experiences as part of their education. These experiences can be something as simple as a field trip. Hands on activities in the classroom is another outgrowth of realist thinking.  Science is above the liberal arts because of its engagement with the real world in a concrete manner. The goal of realism in education is to encourage active learning through engaging as many senses as possible. Through the avenues of the senses learning takes place.

You can read more about realism at this link

Idealism & Curriculum

Idealism is a philosophy developed by Plato.  One of the many tenets of idealism is that truth can be found through reasoning, intuition, and divine revelation. There is such as thing as absolute truth and the world is composed of ideas primarily.

For curriculum, idealist concepts come through when people believe that learning is mostly an intellectual process. Teaching connects ideas together when teaching the students. The education is highly structured and one of the best examples of this is the liberal arts education. The humanities are viewed as the most important subjects because these fields deal with ideas. The sciences are lower on the scale because they deal with observation.

Many famous educators supported idealism. Among them includes William Harris, Fredrich Froebel, and William Bennett. A more detailed analysis of idealism and teaching is available here.

Curriculum Development & Philosophy

Philosophy is the collection of attitudes, beliefs, experiences, and worldview that people have. These perceptions of reality are summarized and defined as a personal philosophy.  A person’s philosophy influences their thinking and actions. Within curriculum,  a teacher’s philosophy impacts how they design and implement curriculum.

For example, a teacher who believes that general knowledge is most important will emphasize this in their curriculum. Their philosophy or belief is that general knowledge will prepare students to handle many different problems in life. Where these beliefs come from is the teacher’s own experiences and the values that were passed down to them from their parents and teachers.

There are several different philosophies that we are going to look at over the next few post. Each of these philosophies continues to impact curriculum not only in the US but worldwide.